Breaking down the Arizona Coyotes’ entire opening night roster
The Arizona Coyotes announced their opening night roster on Tuesday for the 2019-20 season.
It initially included only 21 players: Three goaltenders, six defensemen and 12 forwards. That leaves them room for two more players. Two of the players who were absent from the list? Forward Christian Fischer and defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin. Fischer’s absence was for cap purposes, and he’s expected to re-join the team. Lyubushkin was a different story:
“We just felt like he hasn’t played a lot of hockey in the last year,” GM John Chayka said. “He came into camp, he didn’t have the camp we would’ve liked out of him. So this was a chance for him to kind of reboot. He’ll go down, get a lot of opportunity, a lot of ice time, get a lot of minutes down there but still a big part of our team and our future.”
Chayka said he expects a move to add a seventh defenseman before opening night.
A few of the final roster cuts before training camp ended: The Coyotes sent goaltenders Adin Hill and Ivan Prosvetov to Tucson, and first-round pick Victor Soderstrom was re-assigned to Brynäs in Sweden.
So what is there to know about who made the team? We listed every player for you and gave you a short background on them, giving you context as to who each player is and what you need to know going into the year.
All players are listed in alphabetical order.
Lawson Crouse, wing
A restricted free agent entering this past offseason, the Coyotes re-signed Crouse to a three-year deal in July worth a reported $1.533 million average annual value (AAV). A former first-round pick, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound winger brings what general manager John Chayka called a “a rare blend of size, skating, skill and physicality.”
Crouse played all over the lineup last year, but was mostly used in a bottom-six role as he still scored 11 goals and 14 assists. He also ranked second in the NHL in hits behind Ryan Reaves of Vegas.
Christian Dvorak, center/wing
After scoring 15 goals in back-to-back seasons to start his NHL career, Dvorak played only 20 games last year because of injuries and had two goals in the process. A center on a center-heavy team, Dvorak can and probably will have to play wing at least some of the time and figures to have a middle-six role to start with.
Christian Fischer, wing*
*Fischer was not technically on the opening night roster as announced on Tuesday afternoon. But Chayka said Fischer would re-join the team and had a good training camp. The logic behind not including him was to get the team under the cap before putting Marian Hossa (retired) on long-term IR, thereby freeing up cap space. It’s merely a paper transaction.
Of the regulars in the NHL lineup last year for Arizona, Fischer averaged the fourth-lowest time on ice per game, greater than Kempe, Conor Garland and Crouse. A power forward entering his third full NHL season, the 22-year-old had 11 goals and seven assists last year in 71 games.
Over his time in Arizona so far, Fischer has played in various parts of the lineup, but how he’ll factor into this season’s mix of players remains to be seen. His 18 points was almost a 50% decrease from his 33 the year prior, so his third year could be an important one for the former 32nd overall pick.
Conor Garland, wing
Garland became somewhat of a fan favorite in 2018-19, known for his high energy level and his willingness to get to the dirty areas — so much, in fact, that he took a puck off his face before it ricocheted into the net for a goal.
The bloody aftermath seemed worth it for the first-year player, who wound up with 13 goals credited to his name last season in just 47 games. He was rewarded for his efforts with a two-year contract extension in February.
Michael Grabner, wing
A good penalty killer and a former 30-plus-goal scorer, the veteran Grabner suffered a scary eye injury last year and missed exactly half the season: 41 games.
Grabner made it back before season’s end and resumed playing, finishing the year with the NHL lead in shorthanded goals with six. He had nine goals total on the year and played a middle-six role at even strength and big minutes on the penalty kill. He was paired up with Brad Richardson quite a bit last year, but we’ll see if the addition of Carl Soderberg this offseason changes that going forward.
Barrett Hayton, center/wing
Hayton cracking the NHL roster out of training camp wasn’t a given, but it had been expected. A fifth overall pick last year, Hayton is a center but could be eased into NHL play at wing, where he spent time in the preseason.
He’s a two-way center and looked solid offensively in the Coyotes’ second home preseason game, but perhaps the most important thing he can do this season is grow into the player the Coyotes hope he’ll be for years to come.
Vinnie Hinostroza, center/wing
This is an important year for Hinostroza, mostly because his contract expires after this season and he’ll become an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent. He’ll also be in his second full season with the Coyotes, with whom he set a bunch of career highs last year, including games played (72) and goals scored (16).
Of returning forwards, Hinostroza’s relative Corsi and Fenwick numbers — two possession metrics — were both among the top-3 on the team last year after he took 60.1% of his zone starts in the defensive zone. He also ranked third on the team in that old “goals” stat, if that’s your thing.
Clayton Keller, wing
Speaking of important years, it will be interesting to see how Keller fares. Head coach Rick Tocchet said Keller spent the offseason working on his shot and that it got “50% better,” which is good for a guy who was just given an eight-year, $7.15 million extension.
The team seems to believe strongly in Keller’s ability to produce at a high level in the NHL, and him leading the team in points in his first two seasons isn’t the worst evidence for that. Still, Keller taking a further step forward this year would be huge for Arizona.
Phil Kessel, wing
If we’re counting Phil Housley, Kessel isn’t even the only Phil the Coyotes added this offseason who could make a big impact. But either way, if he scores like he has in the past, he could be just what the doctor ordered. He figures to play on the top line as the Coyotes’ biggest scoring threat after putting up 27 goals last year and scoring 30+ goals six times in his career. But he also had 36 of his 82 points on the power play last year — an area where Arizona really needs help.
The Coyotes need to score more goals, and everyone knows it. Kessel was obviously the big add to try and fix that problem.
Brad Richardson, center
Richardson, a 14-year NHL veteran, had a career-high 19 goals last year, tying Alex Galchenyuk for the team lead. His previous career high was 14. Basic probability — and the fact that four of Richardson’s 19 goals came in one game — would tell you that regression is likely.
Still, Richardson has been a very reliable player up the middle for Arizona as a defensively-solid, two-way center. He plays on the penalty kill and had good chemistry with Grabner. He’s a valuable piece for the Coyotes whether he’s putting the puck in the net or not.
Nick Schmaltz, center
Schmaltz played well before he got hurt last year, scoring five goals and nine assists in 17 games after coming over in a trade from Chicago. This year, if he can produce like he did then, he’ll be another huge addition for Arizona’s forward group.
Carl Soderberg, center
Soderberg got time on both the power play and the penalty kill this preseason and may very well do the same in the regular season. He scored 23 goals last year in Colorado, his career-high, but he’s a two-way player who can provide a net-front presence for the Coyotes.
Derek Stepan, center
Stepan has been a good addition since coming over from the New York Rangers in a trade two summers ago, but his point production last year (35) was a career-low. Having a fuller and healthier (knock on wood) forward group could help him get back over the 50-point plateau, where he’s hovered almost every year of his nine-year career.
Chychrun will be entering his fourth NHL season, but he has yet to play 70 or more games in a year. He missed time last year because of injury but returned on Nov. 13 and played more-or-less the rest of the way after that. This year will be the first year of his six-year, $4.6 million AAV extension as he looks to enter the year with both health and experience on his side.
Demers played only 35 games last year in his second year with the Coyotes after suffering a knee injury in November. The veteran right-shot defenseman plays on the top pairing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and would fall into the long list of players of whom you could say: “This guy being healthy again could make a difference for Arizona.”
For the first time since his rookie year, Ekman-Larsson started more than half of his zone starts in the offensive end last year. The result was him putting up 44 points as a two-way defenseman and having the second-highest “point shares” on the team behind only Darcy Kuemper, per Hockey Reference (you can read more on how they calculate this figure here).
Hjalmarsson is a shutdown defender for the Coyotes and joined Keller as the team’s only two players last year to play all 82 games. He plays important minutes on the penalty kill and does it well, and ranked second in the NHL last year in blocked shots. Read more about him here.
When everyone’s healthy, Goligoski has played on the second pairing with Hjalmarsson. Goligoski gets power play time and provides experience on Arizona’s blue line. He’s entering his fourth season with the Coyotes — his age-34 year — and has two years left on a deal paying him an AAV just shy of $5.5 million.
It will be interesting to see how, if at all, Goligoski’s role changes if Chychrun earns himself more ice time on a top-4 defensive pairing later on. We’ll see.
Oesterle was in the upper third of point producers among NHL defensemen last year despite playing on the bottom pairing and appearing in only 71 games. He had six goals and 14 assists — the former of which was the second-most among Coyotes defensemen last year.
He set a career-high in games played last year and will look to continue growing in his sixth season.
Just before final rosters had to be submitted, the Coyotes claimed Comrie off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets. The 24-year-old is a former 59th-overall pick and gives Arizona three goaltenders on its roster.
The Coyotes can’t loan Comrie to a minor league team without putting him on waivers again, since Comrie is not waivers exempt. So for now, it would seem the Coyotes will keep him on the roster or risk letting another team claim him. They have the luxury of hanging on to him because they otherwise had only 22 players set to be on the NHL roster.
Comrie gives the Coyotes a chance to take a look at a goalie who was once taken in the second round and comes with very little acquisition cost — a low-risk move.
Kuemper played really well down the stretch last year while Antti Raanta was injured. He was unanimously voted by the media as the team’s MVP, finished fifth in Vezina Trophy voting and had tied for the highest save percentage in the league among goalies who played at least 50 games.
Without a doubt, he had a career year. So it will be interesting to see whether he repeats it or if he comes back to earth a bit. And if Raanta is healthy all year, he might not have quite as much playing time. But that’s TBD.
Read more about the Coyotes’ goaltending situation here.
Raanta sustained a lower-body injury in training camp and was described as day-to-day, but after the team sent Adin Hill and Ivan Prosvetov to the AHL at the end of camp, it looks like Raanta and Kuemper are both good to go to start the season.
In case anyone forgot, Raanta played out of his mind at the end of the 2017-18 season, posting a .942 save percentage in 27 games after Jan. 1. Last year, though, he only played 12 games and missed the rest of the year with an injury.
He has struggled with injuries since he got to Arizona. It’s imperative that he stays on the ice this year.